“Marry me,” he said, “Before, I have to leave for Nam.” Dressed in his army uniform, he was so good-looking, my knees knocked like an engine that had blown a gasket. His blue eyes captured my attention, in hopes of trapping me with their powerful persuasion. His imploring stare was almost hypnotic. He looked deep enough into my eyes that we could feel each other’s heart beat. Breathlessly, I said, “Yes!” In a flurry of intense emotion and activity, we married two weeks later.
Two short weeks after the wedding, he donned his soldier uniform and got on a plane headed for Viet Nam, where he served his country as a 20-year-old newly wed. He left behind all that was dear to him to stand up for America’s beliefs and protect their rights. He was poisoned by drinking contaminated water, hospitalized and introduced to violence, fear and despair.
In addition to the atrocities of war, the soldiers from that era met with strong opposition on their own home front. The very people they fought for, spit on them, desecrated the flag, rioted, and there were many other abominations. As a new bride I watched in horror as the news media blasted the airways about violent protests. Those boys should have been praised for the sacrifices they made for their country, family and friends. Instead, they exchanged one battleground for another.
December 7, 1970, my husband came home. Those nine months changed him. If no one looked closely, they could not see his jittery hands. Just at a glance, no one could tell what beast had been unleashed in my soldier cause of.his desperate act of survival.
I almost saw the beast on several occasions. The first time, was soon after his return home. As a prank, my younger brothers, who were 11 and 12 years old, hid behind a building at dusk. They jumped out and screamed a blood curdling yell, to scare him as he and I walked across the yard. in total shock, I watched all the color drain from his face, which left him looking like an apparition. We kept walking, but his emotions were as volatile as a volcano threatening to erupt. With a voice so strained that it did not sound like his, he fervently warned me, “Tell them never do that again! Tell them I might kill them!” His voice cracked like a windshield in a hailstorm. He had been able to control his actions that time, but he could not be sure he could next time. He had lived a life where his fast reflexes were the difference between life and death.
We were blessed. Home, fresh air, family and prayer protected him. Eventually, he was back to normal, almost. His demons only visited in the night-time. Sometimes he thrashed about as if he were wrestling with Hell incarnate. A few times, I felt the air on the end of my nose, where he had doubled his fist and threw a punch, fighting his invisible enemies. His fist never connected with my nose, but it came so close, a hair could not pass through the gap.
Some of our friends were not so lucky. During a flashback, one husband held a knife to his wife’s throat under their kitchen table threatening to cut it, as their small children watched in horror. Others lost limbs, their minds, their families, and their peace, while some paid the ultimate price, death.
In case anyone thinks I don’t know there is a holiday for the living veterans, I do. This memorial is written in deepest respect for every fallen soldier that sacrificed his life , but it is also for every living soldier, male or female, while caught up in the vortex of war, watched helplessly as portions of their life succumbed to death.